Amos John's story

When Amos was 17, in the early 1980s, he left his apprenticeship and signed up for an unemployment benefit while he looked for a new job with the help of the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES).

At the time, Amos said, the government required job seekers to accept positions the CES found for them. If they didn’t, their benefit was cut off. So when the CES located a job for Amos, he took it even though it meant leaving his mother to whom he was very close and his home of Adelaide for a small town about 300k away.

The CES told Amos he’d get accommodation in a furnished unit owned by his new boss and a company car, along with a basic wage. But when he got there he found the car was up on blocks and the unit was unfurnished. The job was ‘really, really hard work’ and he never got paid all the wages he was owed. As well, his boss, Leon Vuko, sexually abused him.

Because the car Amos had been promised wasn’t useable, Vuko came by each morning to pick him up and take him to work. He had a key, and would let himself into the unit. It would be early in the morning – around 6.30 or 7am. Amos would still be in bed. Nothing happened at first. ‘Then he started playing with me’, Amos said. Vuko would get into bed beside Amos and grope him.

‘I asked about my money – [he said] “You’ll get your money, let’s have a little bit of fun”.’

Amos stayed in the job for about six weeks. ‘But it seemed like six years’, he told the Commissioner.

‘He’d have sex with me two or three times a day. That was the first time I had anal sex. He forced me to have anal sex. And then there’d be oral sex, digital sex – and it’d always be “I’ve got $10 here, I’ll get your pay sorted soon”. So I felt cheaper than a whore. I should have been a whore; I would have got more money.’

Vuko also threatened Amos, saying that if Amos told anyone about what was happening, he would hurt his young sister. Amos believed him, and told no one.

Vuko was in his early 40s at the time. He had another employee living with him, a boy of about 15. One day the boy, Robert, confided in Amos. Like Amos, Robert was routinely being sexually abused by Vuko. ‘I took him under my wing. I said I can tell my mum; he said “Oh no, no, no, everything’ll go wrong”. I said, “I trust my mum”.’

Amos did tell his mum. With the support of her and Amos, Robert reported Vuko’s abuse to police. Vuko was charged, tried and sent to jail for several years. At the time, police asked Amos if he also had been abused by Vuko. With Vuko’s threat in mind, Amos said he hadn’t.

Amos didn’t disclose his own abuse for many years. ‘Even after the court I was frightened for my sister … What happens when he came out?’

As well, he said, he just didn’t feel ready to talk about it. And he didn’t want his mother to feel guilty. ‘I didn’t want to make her feel that she was inadequate. My mum would have took it that way I think, because my mum did everything for us kids. And then if she found out that this happened, she would have felt like a real bitch’, he explained.

Amos’s response to Vuko’s assaults had also left him feeling very confused. ‘I knew it was wrong. But then as a boy you have mixed emotions, you know. You’re horny – are you enjoying it … ‘cause you’ve got a stiff …’ And as a gay man, badly bashed several times because of his homosexuality, he doubted he’d get a sympathetic hearing.

‘I even think now it’s hard to be gay. That’s my personal view. You know, people might say I’ve got a gay friend and that – everyone’s probably got gay friends – but there’s still a lot of that poofter-bashing, slagging … So it’s been a hard road. And hence I don’t want to say I was done by a bloke, because people say, “Oh you’re a poof, you like it up the arse”. So there is a lot of stigma. And you’re not going to change that. I don’t think you can change that.’

In his late 40s, Amos finally felt ready to open up about his abuse. His mother had died by then. ‘I took Mum’s death really, really hard. I left work, hit the grog, I dabbled in lots of things.’ Eventually he found help through a support service, and was teamed up with his own support person, Annie, who came with him to the Royal Commission. Annie has been ‘fabulous’, he said. She was one of the first people he disclosed to: ‘Since I’ve done that, a lot’s been lifted off’.

He also made the decision to report his abuse to the Commonwealth Government. ‘I wanted some acknowledgement and some redress. [Someone] to say “Shit, something did happen to you – we are sorry”.’ He eventually received a letter that expressed regret for what had happened, but said there was no basis for any compensation payment. It didn’t suggest any ways of pursuing the matter further.

Amos later decided to report it to police. This was a much more satisfactory experience – actually ‘very good’, he said. It turned out Vuko had died several years before. Amos has now made a claim for victims compensation.

Over the last nine months Amos has cut down on his drinking and started going to regular fitness classes. ‘I think I’m at a place now where I’m comfortable’, he told the Commissioner. ‘I’m trying to lead a good clean life. Since I’ve met Annie she’s just a good support.’

He also appreciated the opportunity to talk to the Royal Commission.

‘Thank you very much for listening’, he said. ‘I’ve spoken to Annie a few times about it and I’ve been emotional about it – but coming here now and saying it like that, it feels like it’s over, you know? I know he’s dead, I’ve said my piece, I’ve contributed to something ...

‘It is a relief that we have got someone we can talk to, and they can put stuff in place so it doesn’t happen again. Because it’s really not a nice thing to go through, and I think even the strongest of people – it’ll break their balls in the end.’

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